163. The Springfield Files

(originally aired January 12, 1997)
Being about aliens, and told as a story-within-a-story (by the great Leonard Nimoy), parts of this feel a bit like a Halloween show. It’s like I’ve seen it before; Homer believes to have made alien contact, but is dismissed by his family thinking he’s drunk. …oh wait, I have seen this, in “Citizen Kang” like eight episodes ago. This one is totally different though, I’m not trying to cry foul, but it’s just unusual that such a similar and unique plot element would appear in two episodes in the season. This show takes place in the “real” world, and this time around Homer actually is drunk, stumbling home late one night, and sees what he thinks to be a glowing green alien in the woods. Understandably, no one believes him. Despite the ludicrous claim, FBI agents Mulder and Scully come to investigate the matter, but conclude that Homer’s just another nutcase. Determined to prove he’s not crazy, Homer, along with Bart, camp out at night and end up getting video footage of the creature, creating a media circus anxiously waiting for its return. But the alleged alien turns out to be an entirely different sort of monster.

What struck me about this episode is how little really happened in it. There’s no story to be had until the very end of the first act when Homer sees the alien, act two is largely Mulder and Scully dealing with Homer, and act three is just a ticking clock to the reveal of who the alien is. I’m not entirely sure how they could have beefed up a small story like this, but I felt like it needed a little more to keep it from meandering. But onto the business of the crossover; it’s sort of similar to “A Star is Burns” in that the episode is about the subject matter of the other show, with the stars appearing within the Simpsons universe. I’ve never watched X-Files so I comment on any inside jokes or authenticity to the characters, but I think they did a fine job for what they had to do. Nimoy was also fantastic in his second appearance on the show, getting plenty of laughs for his minimal amount of screen time.

I feel I haven’t much to say about this one… probably because as I mentioned not a lot happened in it. There were plenty of jokes interspersed and I was never bored, it’s just one of the thinner episodes we’ve seen. I guess I should address the ending; it’s one of those reveals that sort of rides the line between being so ridiculous it’s funny, and so ridiculous it’s horrible. It’s close, but I still give it the former. I laughed at the wonderful animation of Burns being altered and contorted on the conveyour belt, of course under the guise of Dr. Nick (“The most rewarding part was when he gave me my money.”) But why would Smithers allow Mr. Burns to go wandering around by himself in the middle of the night in that condition? And we’ve seen Burns at night before without that green glow. Perhaps the procedures affect some minor internal radiation or something that makes it more prominent. Whatever. All I know is I got a duet of “Good Morning Starshine” with Burns and Leonard Nimoy, and that’s the best I could hope for. A somewhat paltry, but still substantial outing.

Tidbits and Quotes
– Nice bit from Homer recalling a movie that inspired his plan to get out of work (“I saw this in a movie about a bus that had to speed around the city, keeping its speed over fifty. And if its speed dropped, the bus would explode! I think it was called… ‘The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down.'”)
– Definitely the most on-the-nose Smithers gay joke so far; kind of too overt, but I do like Burns chiding, “Mothers, lock up your daughters! Smithers is on the town!”
– Nice knock at Waterworld, even if it is incredibly dated at this point. Sort of reminds me of Waterworld on Virtual Boy. As the Angry Video Game Nerd humbly put it, “it’s like puking on a pile of shit.”
– At Moe’s, Homer is in the mood for something more exciting than boring old regular Duff. With quick use of a marker, Moe provides him with Doof, direct from Sweden. Surprisingly, Homer isn’t fooled for long, and Moe gives him Red Tick Beer, with a striking taste he just can’t place. Turns out it’s dog.
– Great gags on Homer’s spooky way home: he hears the famous Psycho theme, but it’s actually just a bus carrying the Springfield Philharmonic, all playing their instruments for some reason. Then a frightening billboard: “DIE.” Homer screams. A tree is blown slightly to reveal the full message: “DIET.” Homer screams again.
– Even someone as thick as Chief Wiggum can think of nothing but mock Homer’s ridiculous story (“Your story is very compelling, Mr. Jackass, I mean, uh, Simpson. So, I’ll just type it up on my invisible typewriter!”) Then again he has the same reaction to a self-confessed arsonist a minute later.
– I’m torn about the alien line-up gag. It’s neat to see Marvin the Martian, Chewy and ALF standing side-by-side, but does that mean they’re all real? Are they just people in costumes? The whole story’s about no one believes Homer saw an alien, then we see a line-up of a five. I’m really over-thinking this, I know, but it just struck me a weird way.
– Great readings by Duchovney and Anderson captivating by Homer’s blubber while he’s on the treadmill (“His jiggling is almost hypnotic.” “Yes. It’s like a lava lamp.”)
– More look into Moe’s shady backroom antics, this time he’s abducted a killer whale from Sea World for some reason. Nice callback after Mulder gives his dramatic “the truth is out there” speech and we see Moe and his cronies attempting to carry the whale in the background (“Cheese it! The feds!”)
– Bart and Homer actually have a great night out camping, which is nice to see. Best is Bart’s chilling ghost story (“…and that’s how much college will cost for Maggie.”)
– Tonight on Eyewitness News, a man who’s been in a coma for 23 years wakes up. But upon hearing Sonny Bono is a Congressman and Cher won an Oscar, figures it’d be better to take his own life.
– Homer is pleased to see T-shirts reading “Homer Was Right” are being sold at the alleged sighting site, but then finds the alternative, “Homer is a Dope,” sold out immediately. Even Marge bought one (“These shirts are a hundred percent cotton. And look at the fine stitching on ‘dope.'”)
– Love Hibbert’s response to the alien’s offering of love (“Is that the love between a man and a woman or the love of a man for a fine Cuban cigar?”) and Willie’s cries to kill the alien, and equally so when it’s revealed to be Mr. Burns.
– The animation of Burns wandering into the woods is hysterical; it does make up for the logical fallacies I brought up earlier. This episode is flawless, I realize this only now.

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8 responses to “163. The Springfield Files

  1. I too noticed that there’s very little plot in this episode. It’s typical of Al Jean and Mike Reiss’ writing style – come up with a very rudimentary plot, then pile millions of jokes onto it until it fills a half-hour. It’s more evident in Jean’s solo seasons (mostly because the extraneous material now draws attention to itself by how unfunny it is), but it’s also a hallmark of Seasons 3 and 4, as well as these spare episodes they did between Seasons 6 and 9. “Simpsoncalafragilistic…” has a similar lack of plot – it actually wraps up in Act II and has to reset itself just so Act III can happen.

    It’s not necessarily a bad thing; like I said, some of the best episodes from Seasons 3 and 4 were written this way. But once you’re aware of it, you can’t not notice it.

  2. Hilarious episode. I was an X-Files nut and they did a great job parodying how ridiculous that show is (especially Mulder’s rant at the end of his appearance).

  3. This episode has this Homer Simpson pearl of wisdom: “So I says, blue M&M, red M&M, they all wind up the same colour in the end.”

  4. You don’t do this episode justice; it’s regularly put in fan listings as a top 20 episode. I know it’s subjective, but I for one am glued to the screen when it is repeated. It’s hilarious start to stop IMO.

  5. [QUOTE]I’m torn about the alien line-up gag. It’s neat to see Marvin the Martian, Chewy and ALF standing side-by-side, but does that mean they’re all real? Are they just people in costumes? The whole story’s about no one believes Homer saw an alien, then we see a line-up of a five. I’m really over-thinking this, I know, but it just struck me a weird way.[/QUOTE]

    I think it was just for the sake of a sight gag. There’s not much to think about (even the writers/animators said so).

    Fun Fact: none of the crew members of this show got permission to use the alien characters (though Kang/Kodos is an original Simpsons creation), making this the most illegal shot in history, yet the shot hasn’t been edited for copyright reasons. The only trouble the crew got into for that shot was the voice of ALF yelled at Al Jean for not thinking to put him on the show to voice his character (ALF’s sole “Yo!” was voiced by Dan Castellaneta [the guy who voices Homer Simpson and anyone who isn’t voiced by Hank Azaria or Harry Shearer]).

    • Who *doesn’t* know who Dan Castellaneta is, eh?

      I can see why Paul Fusco would have been annoyed at Al and Mike for not thinking to have him voice his character here – especially since they worked on ALF and even wrote four episodes (“The Boy Next Door”, “I’m Your Puppet”, “Tonight, Tonight” and “Suspicious Minds”, for the record).

  6. No mention at all of the Squeaky-Voiced Teen?

    “Uh, Mr Nimoy? We have ten minutes left.”
    Nimoy: “Oh. Uh, fine. Let me, uh, just get something out of my car.”
    (runs out of room, starts his car and drives off)
    “I don’t think he’s coming back.”

    And then, of course, “Keep watching the skis. Uh, skies.”

    No mention, either, of the Budweiser frogs and their consumption by an alligator who understandably prefers another beer brand.

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